The Synaptic Cafe

Thoughts on everyday science of mind.

Passion Flows Out of the Lab

Let me introduce myself.

There's always a backstory to the story. The one I want to tell here is the one that introduces me to you and tells you why I am writing.

I remember the day in 1990 when the construction workers finished the wall. It was part of a new research building at Northwestern University, where I was finishing my doctorate in molecular biology. As I looked out of my laboratory window, now eclipsed by the formidable concrete next door, I cried. I'd lost my view of downtown Chicago. And the event became a metaphor for what the research lab was doing to my love of science.

I had to find another way.

I embarked on an odyssey, launched during my postdoc, when I studied the calcification of kids' replacement heart valves at Children's Memorial Hospital. I had searched outside of work for something to do, took some journalism classes at Columbia College, and stumbled upon a gig as a stringer for the Southtown Daily, a local newspaper. It planted the seed of a new passion. Writing.

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I wrote about local tax bills and Veterans' Day parades. After a year, I won an American Association for the Advancement of Science Mass Media Fellowship, which placed me as a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. I wrote about anything remotely related to science, from O.J. Simpson's DNA analysis to head injuries in sports to deer overpopulation in River Forest, Illinois. I loved finding the science in everyday things. And infusing the study into the story.

When I became a new mother in 1995 and left the paper and Chicago, I thought the dream had ended. I attended to family life in Cleveland, Ohio. But I couldn't shake the craving to write. So I picked up freelance work and thought of it as a stopgap to my next "real" job. But seven years passed. Freelancing fit me so well that I stayed with it through eight more years. I wrote for technical publications such as Science, Nature and Scientific American. In a quest for versatility, I also crafted stories for magazines such as Child, Health, Self and Yoga Journal.

In 2002, I earned a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT and Harvard, which brought me to Boston. That experience led to my first book, Lying in Weight: the Hidden Epidemic of Eating Disorders (Harper Collins, May 2007), contribution to a second book, Going Hungry, Writers on Desire, Self Denial and Overcoming Anorexia and a third, Body: the Complete Human, for National Geographic.

What have I learned? Lots. But for the purposes of this blog:

  • Science has grown so much more complicated and fewer writers can well communicate its nuances and excitement. 
  • Multimedia can help.
  • None of us should lose our passion. There is always a way to kindle the fire. 
  • Stories have to be interesting, or no one will want to read them.

I now write, produce multimedia and live with my daughter, 15, in Brookline, Massachusetts.

That's me. I'd love to hear more about you.

Trisha Gura, Ph.D., is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT/Harvard and a Resident Scholar at Brandeis University.

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